Happy 31st birthday, Belize! For Belizeans, September marks a month of holidays commemorating this young nation’s historic journey to independence. For travelers, it’s a great time to experience authentic culture in Belize among the friendly locals amid their celebrations. Belize’s diverse cultural influences, from Afro-Caribbean peoples to British pirates to modern-day descendents of the ancient Maya, come together in a national identity more eclectic than any other in Central America, and all September long this multicultural tapestry is on brilliant display.
The Minister of Tourism and Culture, Honorable Manuel Heredia Jr., kicked off the festivities this year with a speech:
“September in Belize… is that understood point in time when Belizeans, both at home and abroad, along with our adopted brothers and sisters, celebrate every aspect that makes Belize so unique and wonderful. It is more than the annual celebration of the anniversary of the battle of St. George’s Caye and our Independence; it is that reflective moment when the nation takes a collective breath in gratitude for its bounty.”
Heredia knows firsthand of Belize’s bounty. Born in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye in 1951, he knew the forests, mangroves, and beaches of Belize as his childhood playground, and has been a player in Belizean politics since 1969. Heredia believes tourism growth is one of the keys to a bright future for Belize, and makes a point to attract travelers to the country, or as he calls it, “our jewel.”
Accordingly, the “Many Faces, Many Dreams, One Goal” theme for the 2012 St. George’s Caye Day (September 10) and Belize Independence Day (September 21) celebrations reflects both the rich culture and vision of progress alive in Belize today.
A land of laid-back people, Belize is beloved among off-the-beaten-path travelers — the pace of life seems more relaxed the further you venture out from the mainland onto Belize’s beautiful Caribbean cayes. However, in celebrating their independence and national history, the easygoing manner of the Belizean people swings to wild celebration. Carnival marches, block parties and beauty pageants helped ramp up the nation earlier this week for the more unique events taking place in the days ahead, like the Belikin Bash in Belize City – a week-long extravaganza fueled by street food and featuring bumping live Creole and Punta Rock music, all in the name of Belize’s most famous beer — and a national competition for patriotic songs, awarding a $4,000 prize to the winning songwriter.
Citizens, visitors, and expats alike join together each September to honor the unique culture of this newest nation in Central America. The country fought long and hard to gain its freedom, breaking loose from Spain, Guatemala, and Britain in a gradual bid for independence spanning nearly 400 years. And in the last three decades since its birth as an independent nation, Belize has had much to celebrate:
“All over the world, in articles and blogs, people always comment on the warm friendly nature of Belizeans, and our guests often mention the diverse makeup of our people. I think we take it for granted, and birthdays are an important time to highlight what’s special,” Lucy Fleming, part-owner of eco-resort Chaa Creek, said.
Even US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came out to wish Belize a happy birthday as part of National Hispanic Heritage Month, making mention of the democracy and the embracing attitude towards diversity on which Belize was founded 31 years ago. While an entire month of holidays and celebrations may seem excessive to some, this festive time was long in the making and will undoubtedly serve to propel Belize to its bright future, alongside a commitment to conservation and responsible tourism.